Most of the gist of my earlier article revolved around the Workers’ Party (WP) contesting Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean’s ward of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC. This came the after Teo asserted that WP’s Low Thia Khiang could pursue legal action if he was unhappy with the former’s questioning of WP candidate for the Hougang by-election Png Eng Huat’s character, abilities and integrity. Low felt that the PAP resorted to “baseless attacks”, “distractions” and “character assassinations”. Given that the article came out at the same timing when Low and Teo exchanged words of ‘war’ (Low’s accusation versus Teo’s suggestion that Low can resort to legal action), readers could be forgiven for thinking it is a response to the saga involving the two politicians.
However, in actual fact, it was not really a response to the dramatic exchanges between the two. First and foremost, readers should ask themselves why it was DPM Teo who entered the fray and take centrestage of Desmond Choo’s campaign in Hougang, and in some ways, it proved to be a proxy battleground between Low and Teo. The most probable answer is a political one upmanship between the two. To further examine the possible motivations for this one upmanship, the first thing to consider is to determine which of the Aljunied GRC Members of Parliament is serving in an area that is the closest to Teo’s Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
The answer is Low Thia Khiang, who is overseeing the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol division of Aljunied GRC. In other words, Low, among the WP Aljunied MPs is the one who is within striking distance of Teo’s Pasir Ris-Punggol. For those on the PAP’s side especially at Pasir Ris-Punggol, Low’s electoral history may be a possible cause for worry. We are talking about a candidate who won Hougang, cemented the WP base of support there, and expanded it beyond Hougang into the surrounding Aljunied GRC, when he finally made a breakthrough that led to George Yeo’s loss and eventual departure from the cabinet. Hence, the possibility of Low expanding his base of support from his second ‘Hougang’ outpost of Bedok Reservoir-Punggol into the surrounding Pasir Ris-Punggol is very much on the cards, which I am sure has raised PAP’s eyebrows at the ward and put Teo on high alert.
Come 2016, the spotlight will be on East Coast GRC, the site of a top three losing performance by the opposition, as the next GRC to fall into its hands. WP will re-double efforts to win the GRC, just as PAP will do all it can to defend it.
If Pasir Ris-Punggol were to feature in Low’s plans, it will be one for the long term. His immediate action will be to consolidate support in his Bedok Reservoir-Punggol division before possibly expanding into the surrounding Pasir Ris-Punggol. However, as mentioned earlier, as historical trends go, Teo could possibly be next on the list among Low’s scalps. Teo is surely aware of the close proximity of Low’s division to his ward, and that is the possible reason why he played a major part in the showdown with WP at the Hougang by-election. It looks like upping the ante, a competitive prelude to a future showdown. This is possibly the first in future series of exchanges, and it is certain we will not see the last of showdowns between Low and Teo. There could be more in store.
If Low performs well in his division, he has a good chance of expanding his base of support into Pasir Ris-Punggol, and when the day comes, it could be either he has nurtured an able successor to challenge Teo in his ward or to leave his successor in Bedok Reservoir-Punggol and he comes out himself to challenge Teo, either way it could happen.
However, the current situation is that the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC has been traditionally challenged by the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA). The thing is that the SDA does not have a strong brand name as compared with WP, and it was telling when Secretary-General Desmond Lim lost his deposit after garnering 4.45% of the votes in a three way contest at Punggol East Single Member Constituency with PAP’s Michael Palmer, and WP’s Lee Li Lian who garnered 41.02% of the votes.
Furthermore, SDA does not possess Low’s luxury of serving as an MP in a division close to Pasir Ris-Punggol that presents a realistic chance of expanding support into Pasir Ris-Punggol (SDA has no MPs). If push comes to shove and WP were to send a team into Pasir Ris-Punggol, the prospects of losing deposits like how Desmond did when he faced Li Lian and Palmer could deter the party from going for a three way fight. However, among the opposition, interparty diplomacy is desirable, and for SDA, it has to negotiate for other wards in exchange for Pasir Ris-Punggol. Otherwise, if it insists on a three way, the possible loss of electoral deposit could be a huge one to bear, especially for a six seater ward.
So, the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol division of Aljunied GRC has become Low’s second ‘Hougang’, which means Low is perpetually breathing down Teo’s neck who is close by at Pasir Ris-Punggol. The question we are interested in is whether Teo will go the way of George Yeo? Sounds like a bit of history repeating itself, no?